I’m back in The Wall Street Journal again this morning, reviewing the Public Theater’s Central Park production of Much Ado About Nothing and a one-woman off-off-Broadway show, Janine Squillari’s I Need a Guy Who Blinks.
Much Ado was slow to get off the ground, but Kristen Johnston was great right from the start:
The six-foot-tall alien of TV’s “Third Rock from the Sun” also has an impressive track record on stage, including a vital performance earlier this year in the New Group’s revival of Wallace Shawn’s obnoxious “Aunt Dan and Lemon,” and though she’s a Shakespearean debutante, she clearly has great things ahead of her. As Beatrice, the hard-nosed bride-to-be of “Much Ado,” Ms. Johnston bestrides the stage like a full-fledged star, seizing your attention with every word she speaks (and even when not speaking–I couldn’t take my eyes off her in the crowd scenes). Her dark-brown baritone voice cleaves the air like a well-honed knife, one that she not infrequently turns on herself. Not only does she have the happy knack of knowing how to be funny and rueful at the same time, but her handsome, wide-mouthed face, at once sexy and silly, was custom-made for comedy. When she orders her hapless suitor Benedick (Jimmy Smits) to “kill Claudio,” you want to run right out and tie the noose.
The trouble with the first three-fifths of the play is that David Esbjornson, the director, has failed to create a convincing setting for Ms. Johnston’s magical presence. He has updated the play to Sicily circa 1919, but for no apparent reason other than to appeal to the “Under the Tuscan Sun” crowd, and his puzzling period references (including a bizarre scene set in a Futurist disco) shed no light on Shakespeare’s sufficiently luminous text….
Then came the wedding scene, and everything started to hum. Mr. Esbjornson shook off the confusing superfluities of the previous acts and homed in on the play’s emotional truths, and all at once the whole cast snapped to attention. It was like a helicopter taking off. Actors who had been slightly off target suddenly got the point: Mr. Waterston became frighteningly angry, Mr. Smits charmingly funny, and Brian Murray, who had hitherto fallen flat as Dogberry, the idiot constable, turned before our eyes into a gloriously plummy-voiced boob whose every polysyllabic malapropism brought down the house. Nobody on stage put a foot wrong for the rest of the night.
I Need a Guy Who Blinks may not be Shakespeare, but it’s hair-raisingly relevant:
An 80-minute monologue in which Ms. Squillari describes a disastrous string of bad dates, bad relationships and bad breakups, it is every Gen-X woman’s worst nightmare come to life–plus laughs. Ms. Squillari claims to have an infallible track record when it comes to dating: “Granted, I may not have always made the best choices in men. In fact, I’ve never made a good choice in men.” Fortunately, she was taking notes as she lurched from bed to bed, and she tells her horror stories with a self-loathing glee guaranteed to make every man in the audience take stock of his own peculiarities. I especially liked the questionnaire she created in order to screen out losers up front: “How many people are involved in a monogamous relationship? (A) One. (B) Two. (C) Three.”
No link, so if you want to read the whole thing (and if not, why not?), buy a Friday Journal, turn to the “Weekend Section,” and look for my drama column right next to the Wall Street Journal/ZAGAT Theater Survey. Or subscribe to The Wall Street Journal Online by going here. That’s what I do.